[3/17/17] The Trump administration has released its proposed 2018 budget, and within it are some things worth cheering. Trump’s “America First budget” includes needed cuts to the regulatory state, defunds efforts to purchase more Federal land, eliminates funding for 19 minor government agencies, and makes significant cuts to a number of more significant ones — including the State Department, HUD, and Commerce. Unfortunately, the proposal also reflects the myth that America’s military is underfunded, calling for a $52 billion increase for the Pentagon and another $2.8 billion increase for Homeland Security. The budget also ignores America’s web of entitlement programs, the larger driver of the nation’s fiscal woes.
While the Trump budget, should it pass, would do little to change government spending as a whole, the targeted cuts would have a positive impact beyond the US debt clock. For example, the proposed cuts to the Energy Department, the EPA, and the National Institute of Health represent a significant step toward separating state and science.
It should go without saying that scientific research is a vital part of civilized society, allowing for technological breakthroughs that dramatically increase the quality of life for mankind as a whole. It is precisely because of its great importance that it should not be politicized by being influenced by politicians and government bureaucrats. The inherent problems of government’s inability to efficiently allocate scarce resources doesn’t change when the subject is science, so government research can suffer with the same issues of waste, fraud, and abuse that regularly haunt other programs.
The National Institute of Health, one of the areas most impacted by the Trump budget, provides a number of examples of such questionable research. As Senator Jeff Flake documented last year, the National Institute of Health dedicated millions to such pressing research as the impact of cocaine on bees, testing sex steroids on goldfish, and studying the appearance of Jesus on toast. In its own version of Washington Monument Syndrome, the NIH then came back to Congress asking for more funds to dedicate to actual public health concerns.